I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.
My grandmother once told my aunts that one intersection in her neighborhood was haunted. On her way home from the grocery store, she shifted a heavy, brown bag to her left hip, and noticed the driver, a woman in her early 40s professionally dressed, stopped at the corner, uncontrollably crying. My grandmother wanted to reach through the window to console the stranger, but thought better to get to the other side before she became trapped in traffic. As she crossed, she looked over her shoulder until the light changed to green.
A week later, when crossing the same intersection, she saw a man in a madras shirt, early 20s, shedding tears. My grandmother hurried to the curb. His windows were open to the summer day. His forehead to the wheel, he sobbed audibly. When the light changed, he abruptly drove off. This was strange, for sure, which gave my grandmother the theory that it must be the energy of the corner.
The next morning Grandmom convinced my aunts to see for themselves. They placed aluminum lawn chairs at the intersection and sat together in big floppy gardening hats, examining each vehicle. The first car, a Subaru Outback, contained a family absorbed in their individual activities. But, as the car slowed to a stop, they each wept and shook in unison as if in the throes of a solemn funeral song, the father the loudest of them all. They were followed by a young doctor in scrubs and her Yorkie, who let out yips. Then a priest in a collar. My grandmother believed they all wept because of some pain endured in another lifetime, but more likely, she said, they wept because they were lonely.
She told me the fantastical story about the stoplight where people cried when I was ten years old. I asked, “Grandmom, is it true?” She simply said, “Perhaps.” Today’s poem takes me to the ancient grounds of the imagination, and a cultivated wonder that brings us closer to its magic and possibility.
by Wen Yiduo, translated by Arthur Sze
Perhaps you have wept and wept, and can weep no more. Perhaps. Perhaps you ought to sleep a bit; then don’t let the nighthawk cough, the frogs croak, or the bats fly. Don’t let the sunlight open the curtain onto your eyes. Don’t let a cool breeze brush your eyebrows. Ah, no one will be able to startle you awake: I will open an umbrella of dark pines to shelter your sleep. Perhaps you hear earthworms digging in the mud, or listen to the root hairs of small grasses sucking up water. Perhaps this music you are listening to is lovelier than the swearing and cursing noises of men. Then close your eyelids, and shut them tight. I will let you sleep; I will let you sleep. I will cover you lightly, lightly with yellow earth. I will slowly, slowly let the ashes of paper money fly.
“Perhaps” by Wen Yiduo, translated by Arthur Sze from THE SILK DRAGON II © 2024 Arthur Sze. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Copper Canyon Press.